Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/April 1877/Editor's Table


DR. C. E. APPLETON, of London, has an article in the February Fortnightly on "American Efforts after International Copyright," which gives a generally correct account of, what has been done here within the last few years to promote that object, but which places us in a false position, which we do not care to occupy. The interest of the topic is such that a few remarks of correction and reminiscence are here proper.

There was a revival of interest in the subject in 1871, which began in an English discussion, when Mr. W. H. Appleton, of New York, wrote to the London Times that he did not think the American people were opposed to a copyright which had no other object than to secure the recognition of the rights of property of foreign authors in American editions of their works. He said that such a copyright had never been asked for by England, but only an arrangement to protect English printed books, by which the foreign manufacturer could get protection on his stock of paper, printing, and binding, in the American market under cover of his authors' copyright. The publisher's share in the production of a—book in materials and labor, which have a cash value in the market—may be assumed as at least ten times greater than the share contributed by the author, and which is represented by his customary ten per cent. royalty. Such international copyright laws as have been demanded are, therefore, ten times more for the protection of foreign book-manufacturers than for foreign authors. "Disentangle your author from the publisher," said Mr. Appleton, "and let him present his own claims, and my opinion is the American people will not deny them." The fairness of this position was acknowledged by the English press, but the English publishers were silent. The English authors, on the other hand, or a large proportion of the most influential of them, conceded the justice of the case, and drew up a memorial asking for negotiations on the new basis.

This stirring up of the subject led to some efforts on this side, to carry out the fundamental idea which Mr. Appleton had presented, and which had been previously urged in this country. There was at first but very little objection to the plan, and there was a general expression of favorable feeling toward an adjustment on the basis proposed. But opposition was quickly and vigorously developed, because the parties interested in the frustration of the measure were few and powerful, deeply concerned, and able to concentrate a prompt and efficient opposition. This fact we think was not sufficiently calculated upon, and the practical issue was brought before Congress prematurely, in the shape of a bill embodying a copyright in behalf of foreign authors. More time should have been allowed, and systematic measures adopted to sift the question thoroughly before the American people. We had a society organized for the promotion of international copyright, but it was committed to the old plan, and threw the weight of its influence against the new measure.

In this unfavorable state of things, when the opportunity had been adroitly seized by the tacticians opposed to copyright to confuse and befog the public mind by proposing all sorts of projects, a congressional committee was appointed, who called a meeting on February 12, 1872, for the hearing of all parties interested. We attended it, and it was certainly a very funny affair. We had not been accustomed to the atmosphere of Washington, and were, therefore, but poorly prepared for the sarcastic intimations of parties who lived there, as to the greenness of the gentlemen who came to the national Capitol expecting to interest Congress on such a question as this in a presidential year. The subject was discussed by various speakers, and in his account of it Dr. Appleton says, "Prof. Youmans followed, urging the claims of British authors upon the singular ground that they were very badly paid in their own country, and desired American sympathy." This is a total mistake; we argued the question on no such grounds, and offered no hint of any such reason why international copyright should be secured.

We demanded it of Congress solely as a measure of justice, and there was need enough that this view of the case should be urged; for the discussion before the committee was in the last degree wild and discordant. All sorts of projects and crotchets were thrust forward on all sorts of pretexts. A lawyer was there to represent the Harpers, who opposed international copyright, but for reasons which he admitted would carry with them the destruction of all copyright. He presented a letter from the publishers for whom he was arguing, in which they said the claims of authors were not to be considered, but only the interests of the people at large. But why the people, having taken the communistic hint, and plundered the authors for their own benefit, might not go through the Franklin Square establishment and help themselves, in the interest of cheap knowledge, was not stated. The idea that there was any principle of right in the matter, which it was the duty of Congress to recognize, seemed to be quite lost sight of. The game of defeating the measure for an author's copyright (which it was feared at first might succeed) consisted in bringing up a great number of rival projects to bewilder the question, and the game succeeded. The committee reported against any congressional action, on the ground that it was not called for by equity, while those who professed to be in favor of the measure could come to no agreement in regard to a plan.

It may be added that, while we made no statement before the committee as to English authors being poorly paid, there was a comparison of the American method of payment by a percentage on the sales, with the English system of giving the author half-profits. The American method was commended and the English declared to be one from which their authors suffered; for, while by the percentage plan the author always gets something if there are any sales, on the English plan he gets nothing unless there are profits. And as, first, on the great mass of books there are no profits, and as, second, the making up of the "cost" is entirely in the hands of the publisher, the authors are liable to be victimized by the policy. In proof of this, and in explanation of how badly the half-profit system works for authors, we read from a pamphlet by James Spedding, an English author, in which the whole thing is exposed. He wrote it as two magazine articles, and could not get them published, because the editors said they should thereby make enemies of the publishers. So Spedding published the papers himself. We, however, made no absurd attempt to get up sympathy for English authors because they may be badly used by some of their publishers at home.



Some of the questions propounded to us through the columns of the Tribune by the Rev. Dr. Deems we answered in the preceding number of the Monthly, and postponed, for lack of space, the consideration of the following:

"The professor says that 'Prof. Huxley's antagonists hold that the inflexible order of Nature may be asserted, perhaps, in astronomy, but they deny it in biology.' Will he be good enough to refer me to one of the professor's antagonists who 'holds' that opinion?"

We here made an affirmation concerning a class, and Dr. Deems challenges us to produce a single instance in which it is true, which may be taken as an emphatic way of expressing his disbelief in what we said. Recurrence to the matter satisfies us that, besides being true, the proposition is more broadly true than we affirmed it to be. That the order of Nature is a principle accepted only in part, is a view held, not only by those who are ranked as antagonists of Huxley, but by the great mass of people, including even the largest proportion of scientific men. We have received, from Mr. W. H. Walworth, of Monticello, Iowa, a letter of inquiry that so clearly brings out the attitude of mind to which we referred, that an extract from it will be here useful. Mr. Walworth remarks:

"You say (in your critique of Dr. William M. Taylor): 'And here is the vital point between Prof. Huxley and his antagonists. It is a question of the validity of the conception of the order and uniformity of Nature. Prof. Huxley holds to it as a first principle, a truth demonstrated by all science, and just as fixed in biology as in astronomy. His antagonists hold that the inflexible order of Nature may be assorted, perhaps, in astronomy, but they deny it in biology. They here invoke supernatural intervention. Obviously there are but two hypotheses upon the subject: that of genetic derivation of existing species, through the operation of natural law, and that of creation by miraculous interference with the course of Nature. If we assume the orderly course of Nature, development is inevitable; it is evolution or nothing.'
"Very well; it is evolution or nothing. Now, if evolution is true in biology, as Prof. Huxley maintains, my inquiry relates to the matter of the beginning of that evolution, and the beginning of life. Scientists do speak of the beginning of life. Is there a new force or a new principle introduced at this point that scientists have in mind when they say 'the beginning of life?'
"If so, does that new force or principle come through a miraculous interference with the course of Nature? If not, is life in its beginning other or more than a fact, and its appearance a phenomenon both to be accounted for by evolution in conjunction with matter and its inherent forces and principles?
"Given: First, the planet without life (so called); afterward, the planet with life.
"Then, if evolution is the law of 'dead matter,' and at the same time the law of 'living matter,' is there any chasm between that evolution does not bridge over?
"In other words, if evolution is the law, is there any escape from the conclusion that the beginning of life (so called) is a product of it, unless we accept the hypothesis of miraculous intervention? And why is any scientist permitted to entertain that hypothesis (miraculous intervention), at this particular point in the course of Nature (the point of the beginning of life), while he claims the right to reject it at all the other points along the line?"

This last question implies, what is perfectly well known, that many scientific men, naturalists, and even advanced biologists like Mr. Darwin, do invoke miraculous agency to explain the origin of life upon earth; that is, after admitting generally the great principle of natural causation, at a certain point they throw it up as insufficient, and appeal to supernatural causation.

It is surely unnecessary to waste words here in showing that the conception of the order of Nature has had an historic growth; that in the early times all the operations of the world were explained on the hypothesis of supernatural agents which science has so far dispelled as imaginary that the great phenomena of the heavens, the changes of the crust of the earth, and even atmospheric disturbances, are now referred for explanation to the operation of inflexible and universal physical laws. Where explanation breaks down and difficulties remain, in these branches of inquiry, the course pursued is to attribute the unexplained effects to lack of knowledge, and to wait for further light from the sources that have already afforded it. Nor can it be necessary to multiply words in showing that it is not so in biology, the science which deals with the phenomena of life. When a formidable difficulty occurs here, such as explaining the origin of species or the first advent of living things upon the earth, there is no waiting, but the knot is cut at once by appealing to miraculous intervention—to causes that are above Nature and out of Nature, and which cannot be investigated. There are, indeed, but few, even in the circles of science, who avowedly maintain the inviolable supremacy of natural causes, here as elsewhere, in Nature. They assume it generally, but affirm its inadequacy to explain all efforts. How many are there who recognize man, in his origin, to be as strictly and essentially a part and result of the order of Nature as any other creature? Like Wallace and Dana, they go nine-tenths of the way, and then fly the track. Nature may do a large amount of the lower work; but for the origination of the higher part of man we must appeal to agencies higher than Nature.

Our correspondent does not see the reason of this. He asks why scientists are to be permitted to invoke miraculous agency at the point of the introduction of life, while they reject it at all others along the line of its development. They can only do this at the expense of logical consistency, and, so far as they do it, are unscientific. If a scientist does not know how life began, he should say so; and if he cannot find out himself, he has only to leave the inquiry to others. He is bound to explain it rationally, as he explains other effects in Nature, or to suspend his judgment. It is futile for him to resort to any short-and-easy methods of solving the problem, for it still remains to be worked by the scientific method. The whole history of our knowledge of Nature reveals an immutable order, an invariable and indissoluble chain of causation; and this principle a scientific man is never at liberty to discard because a serious difficulty is encountered; and, as a scientific man, he is never at liberty to discard it at all. Men talk lightly of breaks and supernatural intrusions in the course of Nature, which was well enough ages ago, but is now forbidden by the very conception of what Nature is. For thousands of years nothing was known of natural laws; now they form the basal idea of its constitution. The innermost texture, the essence and spirit, and the very definition of Nature, are unbroken, continuous order. It is by this alone that we know it. It is not enough to say that law is universal. It pervades all Nature, and constitutes the very idea of it. Our intelligence is bound up with it, is a part of it, and we neither know nor can know of any exception or limit to the principle. Men undertake to say where the natural order stops, and the supernatural is reached, but they juggle with words; for, the moment the so-called supernatural is brought within the cognizance of reason, it ceases to be supernatural. The alternative and antithesis of natural order is not the supernatural, but disorder. As the Rev. Baden Powell well remarks, "If Nature could really terminate anywhere, there we should find not the supernatural, but a chaos, a blank—total darkness—anarchy—atheism."

As to the chasm of which Mr. Walworth speaks between dead and living matter, it is, of course, nothing more than a chasm in our knowledge, and none the less a chasm when bridged over by the hypothesis of miraculous interference. The lowest form of life, the material basis from which all living things are spun, is protoplasm; but if Nature can produce a Newton or a Shakespeare in a few years from a formless protoplasmic germ, and by the course of natural causation, why should we say that it is past her power to produce the raw material itself, and fly to the supernatural to account for its earliest appearance? Science cannot take the theological explanation here, any more than elsewhere in Nature, for, if these explanations had been accepted as satisfactory, there never would have been any science. The scientific problem of the origin of life is a recent one. It has not been solved, but what has been already done, so far from disheartening inquirers, only stimulates them to greater effort. Chemistry already begins to build up organic substances artificially in the laboratory, although such an idea was long scouted as hopelessly impossible. A few generations more of work may put a very different aspect upon this profound inquiry; but, even if it takes centuries, the question must be held as belonging solely to the province of reason, and to be solved in accordance with the natural laws of cause and effect.


Our notice of the career of Thomas Edward, printed last month, has elicited much interesting and sympathetic comment from the press, accompanied in repeated instances with something like skepticism as to its verity, or the possibility that a man of such genius could have been so long neglected in a community claiming the slightest degree of civilized intelligence. The story will appear more incredible in this country, where we can hardly appreciate the intensity of the class-feeling that pervades British society. The open secret of the case is, that Edward was a laborer, and not a gentleman, and, belonging to the servile class, he was not recognized or aided by the people around him. Scientific men corresponded with him, but they were at a distance, and probably neither knew nor inquired anything about his personal circumstances. And so he was left to fight his course alone, which he did manfully and bravely, contented if he could only work. The world never heard of Banff before, and it will be now known more for its meanness toward a poor shoemaker than for any other cause. But what shall we say of the meanness of the reviewer who thinks that the world should not have been apprised of the career of this remarkable naturalist until after his death? The Banff people, it is to be presumed, will not offer much excuse for their neglect, but a reviewer can express regret that justice has been done him by a distinguished biographer, as if he grudged the man the satisfaction of being justly recognized in his declining years. It was not enough that he should never have been the recipient of any aid to facilitate his scientific studies, but he must be refused also that reward which is the spur of ambition to the highest natures, the sympathy and approbation of their fellow-men! And if there be a lower depth of meanness yet, a reviewer can find it. Although Edward had been battered through a career that would have killed most men, enduring privation and exposure until health gave way with the approach of old age, yet the critic of the London Academy fears that the effect of publishing this premature biography will be, that no more work can be got out of the old man. This is what he says:

"Interesting and valuable though this memoir of a self-helpful and a self-denying life undoubtedly is, we are not sure that Mr. Smiles would not have acted a wiser part in deferring its publication. For it is rather bold to assert of one who is but threescore and two, and has shown but few signs of mental decline, that 'hic jacet is all that remains to be added.' Rather we would hope that the downward course of Edward's life, smoothed by the queen's recognition of his services, may be a long and useful one, and that, having survived the danger of unmerited neglect, he may be spared the harder trial of intrusive patronage, to which this premature biography is likely enough to expose him. It is a perilous precedent for a successful author to have set, and we could have wished, for the sake of others, that Mr. Smiles had denied himself the pleasure of forestalling the verdict of posterity, and had culled his last example of self-help from a career already concluded."